Rachida Dati’s opponents gleeful at her EU gaffe

Dec 16, 2009
Gavin Mortimer

‘I can’t take any more!’ says frustrated former French minister, now ‘a simple MEP’

In French the word is 'piégée'. In English it translates as 'caught out', and that's what has happened to the one-time golden girl of French politics, Rachida Dati.

The former French Justice Minister was exiled to the European Parliament in June after falling out of favour with president Nicolas Sarkozy who, allegedly, tired of her histrionics. Ever since Dati has been methodically rebuilding her damaged reputation with a view to one day returning to Paris as a political heavyweight within the ruling UMP party.

One of her most recent strategies was to take part in a television documentary about life as an MEP. The station in question, M6, one of France's most trendy broadcasters, weren't expecting much from the programme – but they struck gold thanks to the astonishing absent-mindedness of their subject.

It had clearly been a long day for Dati, 44, the daughter of a Moroccan father and Algerian mother, as proceedings in the European Parliament drew to a close. Just how long became clear as Dati dialled a friend on her mobile phone. "I can't take any more!" she fumed. "I just can't take any more. I think I'll go crazy before I'm finished my term."

Unfortunately for Dati, as she vented her frustration to her friend, the television producers caught every word, courtesy of the microphone Dati had earlier agreed to wear but forgotten all about.

Once into her stride, Dati didn't let up, complaining to her friend that: "I've got to stay here because the media are around and there's the re-election of Barroso [President of the EU Commission]... The trouble is when you're in Strasbourg they can see if you vote or not. If you don't [vote], it means you weren't there."

Since the comments, made in September, were broadcast on Sunday night, Dati has been mocked by her political opponents. "I told you she wouldn't be able to take it. I'll buy you a bottle of champagne if she's still around a year from now," said Daniel Cohn-Bendit, a member of the Green party in the EU. Even Joseph Daul, one of Dati's fellow UMP members in the European parliament, has advised her to show a little more 'humility' in future – adding that it can "be difficult when a minister returns to becoming a simple European deputy".
The left-wing Liberation ran the story accompanied by a photo of a glum-looking Dati sitting in the EU parliament talking into her phone. The paper quoted Dati's response to the incident, her defence being that she was actually complaining about the problems of juggling her role as an MEP with that of the mother of a one-year-old child. "It was simply a private conversation with a friend," explained Dati, "and I neither criticised parliament nor its role. And at no moment did I say 'I've had enough of parliament'."

Dati has never been far from the headlines since she was appointed Justice Minister by Sarkozy when he was elected French president in May 2007 – the first senior minister of North African origin. Glamorous, ambitious, intelligent but inexperienced, Dati caused resentment among many in the French judicial elite who saw her as nothing more than a political symbol.

At first Sarkozy stuck by his protégée as she announced overhauls of the prison system but he became increasingly irritated by her brazen displays of wealth at a time when most of the country was suffering as a result of the economic downturn.

Sarkozy's patience finally snapped in January this year, just a few days after Dati had given birth to a daughter whose father she refuses to name. The president informed Dati she was no longer fit for the job of Justice Minister and must instead represent France at the EU parliament. When she refused initially, Sarkozy is supposed to have replied: "Either you leave for Brussels or you leave with nothing."

Dati packed her bags, and her phone, for a move that clearly hasn't been to her satisfaction.

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